When the Covid19 pandemic clipped my wings
By Meli Tulewa
Bula Vinaka. I am Meli Tulewa, a former Flight attendant with Fiji Airways.
When I was young, whenever Fiji Airways was hiring Flight attendants, one of my friends would bring the news and we would then share our exciting dreams of becoming flight attendants and create our own happiness with imagination.
Many people who knew me always thought that this was impossible because I was born with a medical condition or birth defect called congenital talipes equinovarus (commonly known as ‘clubfoot’) on my right foot which could result in me walking on the side of my foot. Thanks to my mother, Kelera Tulewa who raised me single-handed, she decided to put me up for surgery while I was only 8 months old. Since then, I walked without any issue even though my right leg was slightly thinner than my left leg. Growing up, I never liked to highlight or tell people about my condition unless they see it for themselves and ask me. I grew up being laughed at and people even made fun of my leg. Despite all that, my mother never ever stood a chance to doubt me or think less of me.
Despite all that, I never stopped trying to attain my dream and make a name for myself. I also wanted to be an example to others and let them know that if you have your mindset on something with determination and faith, nothing can ever stop you from getting there.
In 2017, I became a Radio Announcer for 2day FM which is a dynamic Radio Station owned by ‘Fijian Broadcasting Corporation’, the biggest Media Company in Fiji. This itself was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. During my time as a Radio Announcer, I was still fascinated by becoming a Flight Attendant.
I would dream about how someday I would visit the Great Wall of China, toss a coin in a foreign pond and sing “Party in the USA” in Los Angeles. This was my dream since I was 6 and I couldn’t wait to see the world.
In 2018, God unwrapped my best gift so far. I got the call from Fiji Airways.
I was chosen to be one of the very few successful candidates to become a Flight Attendant among the THOUSANDS of applicants.
I learned about CPR, how to carry & transfer a bomb to the least risk area of the aircraft and of course; how to brew coffee!
At the end of my 8 weeks long training, I was able to convince my safety instructors that I could tell the difference between a heart attack & heartburn, give the proper first aid, how to kill a fire & deliver a baby at 35,000ft.
I showed them that I can evacuate a full load flight in 90seconds (Trust me, I thought I lost my voice completely from the shouting) and opening heavy aircraft doors too.
I also had to take tests on how to handle a highjack & how to survive in extreme temperatures in case of a crash landing or ditching.
The most challenging part for me was to memorize the exact location & number of all the first aid kits, fire extinguishers & the rest of the equipment inside the aircraft that are too many to mention. Mind you, we operate different aircraft models (A330-200, A330-300, B737-700, B737-800, B737-Max8 & A350-900). These different aircraft models all have different configuration and equipment location.
So, after sliding down mock-up planes, swimming & erecting a canopy and other safety tests, I passed the training!
Honestly, I wish everyone reads this article so that they know what the training was like for the so-called “waiters and waitress' in the sky”. Yes, we have been called so many names but only we along with just a handful of people know about the tough training we had to undergo before we finally get to dress flashy and travel the world.
Yes! I went around the world and my dream did come true!
However, what no one told me was there will be many times I would choose sleep & get room service over the museums & parks because my whole body was just too tired to explore.
- No one told me that a Nadi to the San Francisco sector can tire me to the bone.
- No one told me that the jet lag from flights can put me down for a day of amazing unproductiveness plus put my hormones into chaos.
- No one told me that I would miss Christmas, New Years, birthdays, and my nephew’s birth. I was 35,000 feet above sea level & cut off from the world when my uncle died.
- No one told me that I would always be the last to meet the family’s niece and nephew.
- No one told me that a Flight Attendant doesn’t have weekends, his time is not his own. I never knew that I will always be nothing but a visitor wherever I go and that at any given time I would always be missing someone.
Despite all those hidden perks, I still appreciate those wings.
Yes, the Power I acquired from those wings is something I wouldn’t trade with any other job.
Fancy hotels and breakfast buffets. I loved the high ceiling rooms of Ayres Hotel in LA & the discounted breakfasts being served at the Holiday Inn in Singapore.
Perks my wings afforded, not me. Not to say too, that I get peanuts compared to some other Flight Attendants whose wings gave them Rolex and Gucci. Mine paid for my sister’s school and items for my nieces and nephews.
For that, I will forever be grateful. My wings gave me the power to be with loved ones no matter how short. My friend who lives in Japan and once was devastated over a breakup, my wings brought me to her for a night of tears, laughter, booze & off-key karaoke! Because when she jumps - I don’t jump... I fly!
The wings also gave me a team to belong to. There is a special bond between Flight Attendants because of the unique kind of life we live. It is a life like no other.
We never say I’m flying to Honolulu; we say “I HAVE Honolulu!” We trade too, and say things like “Who wants Sydney? I need Hong Kong.” Yes, like we own the whole damn world!
We drink soup from paper cups like it was coffee in the middle of the night, we use the military time to set our alarm, we can finish a meal in 30 seconds standing up...behind a curtain & in-between meal service & clearance.
We hate when you stand up after the plane lands, we laugh when you clap after the plane lands. We love when you thank us.
Aircraft is for Flight Attendants; Airplane is for passengers.
We talk in dates even if it’s just the next day. We never know what day it is but we remember what supermarket is closest to our hotel.
We may especially have loved working with someone specifically without knowing that person’s name or if we will ever fly together again. CC2 or CC8 maybe our names for the day.
I have woken up in the middle of the night with a mini heart attack forgetting where I was.
I visited wonders of the world but no one to share the moment with.
We are always, always alone in a crowd.
The World Stood Still but My World Turned Upside Down!
I LOST MY JOB.
For me, it felt like the walls were closing in on me. I was always used to hiding my emotion to put a smile across someone else’s face but I could hardly ignore this pain. Of course, it isn’t just a job I’m losing, it is that childhood dream.
Now, I have learnt to keep my head above the water especially to know that I bested thousands to get my dreams. I cannot let this virus ruin my life.
My fellow Airline Cabin Crew, you have proven yourself to be amongst the very best which was why you were given your wings. If you have taken off that uniform, remember; Those wings are forever attached. Continue to Soar for higher Heights!
I need you to see this pandemic as an incubation period. Looking back into my life experience, I can say with confidence that there is never any problem that you cannot solve or any mountain that you cannot climb. This pandemic cannot be a reason for you to give up! Keep your head high. Stay Safe and Trust in the Lord.
Vinaka Vakalevu & Ni Sa Moce,